Tag Archives: Vocal

Three Words for 2014

Last year I started something new. Inspired by Chris Brogan and his tradition of picking three words for the New Year, I picked 3 words for 2013. I can’t tell you what they are, as I’m sure I wrote them down somewhere ‘safe’ and now can’t find where they were written, but hey, it was worth a try!

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This year, I thought I would write about my Three Words for 2014. I am putting them in a more permanent form  (this blog) and I’m going to share them with you today.

Even though we are already a week into the New Year, it’s not too late for you to think about three words that you would like to inform your New Year. My first two words appeared to me around January 1st and the third word presented itself to me on January 4th.

Here are my three words for 2014:

  1. Intention
  2. Choice
  3. Consistency

An overall theme for me for 2014 is Change. I know that 2014 is going to be a year of change and/or working towards larger change. What that looks like yet, I have no idea, but I’ve built some time into my life (with my husband), to guide this change. My three words will inform the changes that will happen this coming year.

Intention:

This word has come up a lot for me lately in conversation and in my teaching. If I am intent on something, it has my focus. I am starting to memorize an opera for a performance in May – therefore I am intent on studying it on a regular basis. On a smaller scale, how I form intention within the phrases of a piece of music helps create the piece. What is the intention of my message? Does this phrase need to be happy, angry, joyful, worried, etc. ?

Choice:

I always have a choice. I can consciously choose an activity that will serve my intentions, or not. I can choose to eat something that may not agree with me, but I’ve made that conscious choice and will deal with the effects. I can choose to practice in a mindful way, or I can choose to fiddle with papers on my desk while I practice, so I’m not really present (no intention).

Consistency:

This was the late one. Progress does not come without consistency. If I am consistent in my intention, then I will be working towards what I set out to do! Consistency is also a cooking/science term; how thick or thin is your pancake batter? If it’s thin, you’re making crepes, if it’s thick, you’re probably making waffles!

The only constant in life is change, therefore consistency in my actions will bring about the changes that will happen!

Picking three words is just a way to think about the coming year ahead. I’ll be reviewing my three words on a fairly regular basis. I’ve also written down my three words and posted them in my home work space so I’ll see them every day!

I encourage you to consider three words for your focus this year. Read about others’ experiences with this (a good place to look is in the comments sections of the links I’ve mentioned). When you do a review at the end of the year (see Chris Guillebeau for inspiration), your three words might inform that review, or they may not. Regardless, it’s a great way for you to think about what’s working for you, and what’s not.

Please feel free to share your three words in the ‘Leave a Reply’ link above, or  a link to anything you may have written on your three words, or any other thoughts you may have on this post.

Community

When you speak the word ‘community’, what comes to mind? Maybe a community centre where there are activities for people of all ages. Maybe there’s a small community in your work-place? Perhaps you identify your community with your neighbourhood – it has a strong identity in the larger geographic area.

SummerChoir

This image uses an unusual juxtaposition of a nun with a banjo to advertise a summer choir. Fun!

I love this image because it is advertising a choir for those who are ‘choir-less’ over the summer. It is building a new community for those who love to sing.

There is a saying printed on magnets, mugs, posters, etc. ‘Sing as if no one is listening’. It does not say ‘Sing when no one is listening’ because singing is something to be shared, either as a soloist or as a member of a choir. When you sing, it should be with as much freedom alone as when you have an audience. Tough to do, but the results are worth it!

When you start singing lessons, you should invite a few of your close friends to support you in this new endeavor. If they are involved in music-making themselves, that’s even better – you can create your own micro-community for each-other. You don’t have to be doing the same musical activity, just be there for each-other.

When I started my first year of singing, I would occasionally sing for my friends a capella (not accompanied by an instrument) – they professed to be a willing audience, and it was good to practice singing in front of others.

Your community is there for you. They support you in every way possible by coming to your performances, listening when you need to talk about your frustrations, and not interfering or offering unsolicited advice about your choices.

Your community can be musical or non-musical. They can be your neighbours, your friends, and/or long-distance friends. I am building a community by writing this blog. I want to reach out and encourage others who have been tentative about singing, to go out and sing!

You have many different circles of relationships in your community. What purpose does your music community serve for you? How do you serve your music community?

I’ll be taking a break over the next three weeks to enjoy time with my family and friends for the holidays. They are a part of my musical support community that do not see a lot of me during the rest of the year.

Have a wonderful and music-filled break over the holidays and you’ll hear from me again in the New Year.

As always, I love to have your comments and feedback. Use the form below to tell me about your community!

Gratitude

Having been sick for nearly 10 days and barely able to sing for 5 of those, I decided to write about gratitude.

I am grateful that I can phonate again, even if I don’t have my usual energy to sing for as long as I’d like.

I am grateful to be in a place where I can sing and teach singing – sharing something I love and nurturing that same spark in others.

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I am grateful for the joyful reaction of my students when they find new pathways and resonance in their singing.

I am grateful that so much music is available to share between people, in so many different forms.

I am grateful so many musical outlets exist for all types of people.Music in any form is a joy to be shared with yourself, and with others.

I am grateful for music for the fun of it. I am grateful for performing music.

I am grateful to have all of my senses with which to enjoy music.

I am grateful for the variety of music.

I live in a small city where there is an embarrassment of performing arts riches – straight theatre, musical theatre, operetta, improv groups, opera, a Conservatory of Music and a flourishing university music department. There is a well-respected jazz bar, several smaller music schools, and venues for rock and roll bands getting their start. There is a big Fringe festival here in the summer, and a unique solo performing arts festival called UNO. There is a fairly new, medium sized arena where a number of big-time musical acts come to perform. There is a very active Early Music Society. There are choirs to suit every need, performing everything from a capella memorized repertoire, to numerous well attended church choirs, to advanced choirs performing with the Victoria Symphony. For all of this I am thankful.

Have you ever just stepped back and looked at your singing life from a distance? Maybe you’re contemplating singing but haven’t yet taken the plunge into lessons, a choir, or another outlet. The sooner you start, the more grateful you will feel for having taken that step.

And finally, I am grateful to you, dear reader, for reading and sharing these words.

I hope they inspire you to make a record in some way of the things for which you are grateful. Each evening before I sleep, I write down three gratitudes. It’s a nice way reflect on my day and no matter how difficult my day was, I always find three things for which to be grateful.

I would love to hear from you and what you are grateful for. Feel free to leave your comments below.

Integration

Lessons, practicing, reading, resting, walking – all of these activities are useful for integrating the knowledge you are gaining from learning how to sing. How quickly you integrate a concept, technique, or new knowledge into your own singing practice varies considerably. This is why we need another set of ears when learning how to sing – otherwise we have no gauge to distinguish between our singing today and our singing three months ago (unless you record your lessons and keep a library/archive of them).

integration light image

I love this image- the threads of light (thought, ideas, concepts, knowledge, etc.) integrate into a stream or column of light that is your singing voice.

There is no prescribed amount of time to integrate new skills you have acquired. I have been at 5-week long intensive singing courses where it took six months or more to integrate all I learned during that intensive period of singing and of study. I was singing on average 3 hours per day during the 5-week period. It was a lot of work, and very draining, but fantastic at the same time!

When you are taking lessons just once per week, you are working on just a few concepts per week (perhaps even just one). You take those home and you practice or learn them. Of course when you try at home it may not be as easy or as good as in the lesson. Perhaps you have anxiety while practicing that your singing isn’t as good as in the lesson. Maybe you think you have grasped the concept or technique, then when you get to the lesson, you realize you’ve been doing it all wrong! This is all a part of the learning process.

I attended the National Association of Teachers of Singing Northwest Division Conference this past weekend. The main theme was The Mature Voice, but a secondary theme was repertoire and resources for the young voice. I took copious notes and I’ll be reviewing them over the next few weeks, acquiring new resources (books!), and starting to try out new techniques to help my students of all ages become better singers.

Outside of music and singing, I practice yoga and karate. I have completed several Bikram Yoga 30-Day Challenges – where you go to 30 classes in 30 days. It’s a great way to test your endurance, get fit, and take your yoga practice (NOT yoga perfect) to the next level. This process helps you integrate what you have been working on in the time before intensive ‘study’. There is no reason why you cannot do the same thing with your singing practice. It does not have to be long – especially if you are just starting out – but you may be surprised at the results!

By giving yourself mini-challenges, you are building muscle memory, building new pathways in your brain, and above all, having fun! You can also adapt ‘challenges’ – for example you can do a 14-day challenge instead of 30, or turn your 30-day into a 60-day challenge instead!

There are many tools available to help you integrate the new skills you are acquiring. One of the side-benefits of singing lessons might be a new skill such as being more organized to integrate this new practice time! Write practice time into your calendar or planner, and be specific about what you learn each day. I find it helpful to write specifically which pieces I will work on during a given practice time.

I strongly recommend you take a look at all the resources I listed below for further inspiration and ideas. Go forth and practice, integrate, and have fun! Thanks for reading, and please share and follow if you haven’t already!

Permission

Give yourself permission to try. Give yourself permission to fail. Give yourself permission to succeed. Give yourself permission to explore. Give yourself permission to have an adventure!

428px-Alice's_Adventures_in_Wonderland_-_Carroll,_Robinson_-_S001_-_Cover

The cover of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Charles Robinson.

Ultimately you are the only one responsible for yourself and your own actions.

Try. Fail. Do. Listen. Do again. Succeed. Do again to reinforce what works best for you.

In the wise words of Yoda, “There is no ‘try’, there is only ‘do’.”

Have a conversation with yourself about what you are aiming for. Singing (training) opens your soul to yourself. If you don’t give yourself permission to explore your soul, you are missing out on knowing yourself better.

Give yourself permission to explore new things. Don’t get caught up in worrying about things you can’t control. When you are singing, think about singing; not the bills you have to pay tomorrow, or the coffee you had with a friend this morning. Take control of yourself and your reactions.

Give yourself permission to feel the way you feel. If you feel like crying one day when you breathe deeply for singing, let it happen.

(I spent an entire academic year falling into tears in my lessons and classes on a regular basis because I was exploring new areas of expression, breath, and voice that I found intimidating. In the end, giving myself permission to go there helped me to become a better singer and a better performer.)

Speak out loud. “I give myself permission to enjoy singing for the sake of singing”.

Seek out a teacher. Explore your voice. Give yourself permission to try something new, scary, fun, and soul-opening. Just sing.

Thanks for reading. Share with your friends and follow if you haven’t already done so!

Resonance

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Sound resonates. Ideas resonate. Singing resonates.

Without getting into a whole bunch of physics about sound waves and sine waves and frequencies, I’m going to stick to a very kinesthetic sense of resonance. The kind you feel when you’re at an amplified concert and the bass thrums through your body. Or the piercing tones of scottish bagpipes that some people find exhilarating and others find grating. (I’m of the former persuasion, myself). Or the kind of resonance that will break a glass.

Resonance and, more specifically, resonating frequencies created by the singing voice be heard over entire orchestras – this singer’s formant is what allows the singing voice to be heard when accompanied by orchestra.

Unamplified.

If you are in the audience, those sounds resonate through your ear, your body, your brain. The resonating notes, instruments, voices and space are part of what makes live music so much more enjoyable and visceral than recorded music.

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘resonate’? Speak it out loud. Notice the consonants. Notice the vowels. Where is the emphasis in the word? Now play around with the emphasis – try it on a different part of the word. Still out loud? Good.

Now, intone the word on a single pitch. Do you feel the vowels resonate through parts of your face? Try it a little louder. Obviously not if you’re at the office or on public transit. That might be awkward.

When you spoke it louder, did you notice more engagement of your abdominal muscles? These are the same muscles used for singing.

Next time you sing in the shower, notice the resonance of the bathroom – lots of hard surfaces for the sound to bounce off. Now, sing in your bedroom – quite different?

Favorable resonance is pleasing to us. Singing is pleasing to us, partly because of that wonderful resonance – the idea of creating sound – either alone or with others in a choir.

Try intoning different words and notice how they ‘resonate’ with you. If you don’t notice anything, try speaking/intoning a little louder. Try it in different parts of your speaking voice – higher, lower etc. Try it in different parts of your home. Speak it into a corner where walls meet and compare to how it sounds when you stand 3 feet from a wall, or towards a window.

Here are a few examples of words to speak, then intone on a single pitch:

Resonate

Hum

Orchestra

Instrument

Happiness

How do you feel when an idea resonates with you? When something resonates with me, I notice a physical reaction – I am physically drawn in to that idea. I might lean closer to the person who expressed it, or into the paper or computer where I am writing it.

Resonance is a call to action, to dive deeper down the rabbit hole of ideas expressed.

Singing is resonance – What else resonates with you?

Singing? I can’t sing!

I am a singer. What does that mean exactly? I love singing and could sing a tune back before I could speak coherent words. I didn’t start formal singing training until my early 20’s, which is quite late if you’d like to have a career as a performer (as I did and still do).

Singing lessons are an exercise in patience, perseverance, but also letting go and having fun. When I tell people that I’m a singer, the most common thing I hear is “Oh, I can’t hold a tune” or “I can’t sing at ALL”. Now that I teach singing, I find that is not true. I have had students who couldn’t match a single pitch when they started, but several weeks later are singing a 5-note pattern accurately. A very small percentage of the population is clinically ‘tone deaf’  http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/tone-deaf-test

I want to tell you something profound right now:

Practically anyone can learn how to sing. YOU can learn how to sing (and enjoy it), and not just in the shower!

If you are sitting on the fence about taking lessons, or you were told as a child ‘please don’t sing with the choir”, “Stick to (insert instrument here)” or some variation of that, then ignore that little voice inside and go and take some lessons.

Singing for fun is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things you can do for your self. Even if you already play an instrument and would like to learn how to sing along with yourself, just go and do it.

Here is your challenge: Find a teacher and register for at least one trial lesson. I will be writing a future blog post about how to find the right teacher, but just take one lesson and see if you enjoy it. If you like that one lesson, register for at least 6 more. Expect to be asked to practice a little bit each day. As with anything in life, 15 minutes a day when you’re first starting out is progress. (I gave myself 15 minutes to write the first draft of this blog post).

Remember: Sing, breathe, and have fun!